Former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology (MSET), Hillary Alexander, testified Wednesday that she was in the dark about travel arrangements and payment for Venezuelan board members. Petrojam administration, and could not say whether taxpayers’ money was ever used to cover their overseas travel expenses.
The then-chief accountant, who testified she spent 10 years in the role before resigning in 2018, admitted during cross-examination of defense attorney Bert Samuels that although she knew that three Venezuelan directors had served on the board, she was unaware that they traveled from their home country for meetings on the island. She also said she was unaware that the cost was borne by Petrojam.
“I am not aware of their travel arrangements,” Alexander said, while testifying in the ongoing fraud trial of former Petrojam chairman Dr Perceval Bahado Singh and former chief executive. of Petrojam, Floyd Grindley, in Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court.
The two former Petrojam bigwigs are on trial on multiple counts relating to alleged fraudulent travel compensation claims totaling US$73,620. Grindley allegedly helped the former president make fraudulent claims.
Nor did Alexander recall ever seeing a foreign travel request for William Matinez, former Venezuelan chairman of Petrojam.
“I suggest that you are well aware that the Venezuelan’s travel expenses were covered by Petrojam,” Samuels, who represents Singh, told him.
“I have never been asked to approve a travel request,” she replied.
“I suggest that you be well aware that it was taxpayers’ money that paid for Venezuelans’ foreign trips,” Samuels insisted.
“I don’t accept your suggestion,” replied Alexander.
She also denied being fully aware that Martinez’s travel arrangements were made and paid for by Petrojam.
“I can say that this ministry was never called upon to approve travel expenses for Venezuelan board members,” Alexander added.
However, the former permanent secretary, when cross-examined by Grindley’s lawyer, KD Knight, QC, agreed that Venezuelan board members should not have been treated any differently than other board members.
She acknowledged that there should have been equal treatment for all board members.
Alexander further admitted that she was unaware of any prohibitions against foreigners serving on the board.
The permanent secretary was observed sighing several times before providing answers, many of which were to Knight’s displeasure. She was also asked about the amendment to change the meaning of “foreign travel”, which had been documented as “travel from Jamaica to a foreign country”.
However, Alexander told the court that she did not know if it had ever been changed, although she was among those responsible for ensuring that approvals for overseas travel were obtained.
“I would have operated within the framework of what existed at the time,” she shared.
The trial has been adjourned until Friday.
Lawyer Matthew Hyatt is also representing Singh, while Bianca Samuels is representing Grindley.